WHAT IS BLOCKING?
Blocking is a useful finishing technique for knitting and crochet pieces. It allows you to:
- even up uneven stitches, correcting its tension.
- stretch any knitting or crochet project to make it a bit longer or wider, reaching the exact measurements the pattern calls for. In the case of modular blankets such as my “12 blocks for Xmas”, the main purpose of blocking is to make sure each square gets to the same measure before sewing up to assemble the blanket.
- open out the texture of your work, showing the stitch pattern at its best (essential for lace shawls and similar things).
- obtain straight edges.
- make your yarn projects look neat and crisp 🙂
IMPORTANT TIPS: BEFORE BLOCKING
- Always check your ball band for care instructions. Don’t ruin all your hard work by not using the right blocking technique for your material!!
- If you’ve lost your ball band and are not sure which blocking technique will be best for your piece, please try a swatch first.
- Blocking is a PREVIOUS step to assembly.
- Weave in all yarn ends before blocking.
- Beware that blocking is not magic. For instance, if you didn’t check the pattern tension/gauge before making a cardigan, you WON’T be able to turn an S size to an XL. So, don’t be lazy and make your swatches!
- DO NOT scrub your knitted or crochet pieces when wet blocking them, specially if they are made from wool or alpaca. You’ll risk felting them.
CAN I BLOCK ANY YARN?
Yes, you can block pieces knitted or crocheted with any yarn. But you need to choose carefully which blocking technique suits better your material. I advise you again to check the ball band of your yarn, but in general:
- ANIMAL NATURAL FIBERS. Animal fibers like wool, silk, mohair, cashmere, alpaca, llama, yak, camel, vicuña and angora can all be wet blocked with great results, since their fibers are very ductile when damped and hold their position they dry into. Some of them can also be steamed blocked, but make sure they’re not sensitive to heating by checking the label in the ball of yarn to prevent damaging the fibers.
- PLANT NATURAL FIBERS. Plant fibers like cotton, bamboo and linen can be wet blocked, steam blocked (be careful, some bamboo blends can’t) or even pressed with an iron.
- SYNTHETIC FIBERS. Synthetic fibers like acrylic, polyester, nylon, rayon, modal and viscose (and blends that include synthetic fibers) can be carefully steam blocked. And when I say “carefully”, I mean it: if you touch the fabric with your iron you could melt it! 😨 IMPORTANT NOTE: steam blocking of synthetic fibers is irreversible, so make sure to do it properly. Try a swatch first.
ABOUT LINKS AT THE END OF THE POST: DISCLAIMER
At the end of the post you will find some links to products useful for blocking which are sold at Amazon, and that I believe are worthy. If you buy some of those products, I will receive a commission that helps me maintain OhLaLana!’s site. Now, let me be clear: do I urge you to buy some? Not at all! In fact, I encourage you to use resources you already have around your house and provide you some ideas in the “Materials” section for each blocking technique. Not only for your personal finances, but for our planet’s sake, it is so much better to avoid buying new things all the time when you can use what you already have or ask some friend to lend you something. But… I know that sometimes we do need to buy things and I wanted to be perfectly open and clear about those affiliate links 😊 And of course, since I decided to place them at the end of the post instead of inserting them between the information on the article, you don’t even have to look at them if you don’t want to!!
Now, let’s get to blocking, shall we?
1) WET BLOCKING
It involves fully soaking the item with water before (wash blocking) or after (spray blocking) pinning it into position. The method you choose will depend not only of your liking but also of the size of your project. If the project is too large (a big wool poncho, for instance) you won’t find a large enough basin to contain it. And if you do, your knitting will be so heavy once thoroughly damp that you will risk damaging some yarn fibers when you take it off the water.
My recommendation is this: if you feel that you need to appeal to your bathtub to soak it, it’s a sign that you should consider Spray blocking 😉
1.A) WASH BLOCKING
- Basin or bowl, large enough to hold your project.
- Lukewarm water. For animal fibers (wool, alpaca, yak, angora, etc.) use cold water instead, since warm or hot water can felt the yarn.
- Clean towels. If you think the knitted piece could bleed some color out, it’s best to use old clean towels.
- Measuring tape.
- Rust-proof pins. I use T-pins because they are so much easy to handle when blocking! Disregarding which type of pins you use, it is essential that they are rust-proof though, since they’ll get wet.
- Blocking mat or board. I use one of the blocks of the kit I assemble to put below my yoga mat (I have bad knees and need the extra cushioning). Bear in mind that you do not need any fancy equipment to block your fiber works: you can use an old yoga mat or a stack of towels and get very good results without any expending! If you want a sturdier DIY blocking mat, use several cardboards of the same size, wrap them with towels and voilà! You just made your own blocking board 😊
- Optional: non-rinse wash. I use it only for lace shawls, scarves, cardigans and sweaters that I intend to give as a gift. Just because they smell so well!
Wash blocking step-by-step
1) Before starting, look at the ball band to check if there is some recommendation for your yarn regarding soaking time and water temperature.
2) Fill a bowl or basin with lukewarm or cold water. Add a little non-rinse wash if using.
3) Put your project in the bowl.
You can gently press the borders to help them get thoroughly wet, but don’t rub or scrub the fabric.
Let it soak for about 15 to 20 min, unless otherwise advice from the yarn manufacturer. If you have a cat friend, keep an eye on it. If you watched the BBC television series “Cranford” (based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s books), you know what I mean…
4) Drain the water and gently lift your item completely, without letting it hang so that it does not stretch unintentionally.
5) Gently squeeze out the excess water. DO NOT wring out or twist your wet knitting.
6) Lay the project out between clean dry towels and apply a light pressure to remove more water.
7) Place your knitting on a blocking mat. Spread it gently into the desired shape, or to the measurements specified in the pattern you are following and pin it into position around the perimeter.
8) Let it dry completely. The amount of time needed depends on the climate and thickness of the item, but the average is 24 hours. Sometimes the project could feel ready before this time, but the core of the fibers might not be dry. If you remove the pins before time, it could shrink back as the centers of the fibers dry and won’t get properly blocked. So, give it at least a day to be sure.
9) Remove all pins. Your project is blocked!
1.B) SPRAY BLOCKING
This option is useful to block large items that do not fit in a bowl. The procedure is the reverse of the previous one: you pin first and then you saturate the item with water. Drying takes more time than wash blocking, because in spray blocking you are not able to remove excess water. On the other hand, you need less material and probably are in less danger of making a wet mess around your house 😉
- Spray bottle filled with lukewarm water. For animal fibers (wool, alpaca, yak, angora, etc.) use cold water instead, since warm or hot water can felt the yarn. Any clean spray bottle will do; repurpose if you can 😊
- Measuring tape.
- Rust-proof pins.
- Blocking mat or board.
Spray blocking step-by-step
1) Before starting, look at the ball band to check if there is some recommendation for your yarn regarding water temperature.
2) Lay your project on the blocking board and stretch it to the desired shape, or measurements specified in the pattern, using the pins to secure it into place.
3) Spray the piece generously to get it quite wet. Make sure is completely wet, specially the edges. Add more pins if needed. If during the drying process there is some part that doesn’t look as you want, respray it!
4) Let it dry completely.
5) Remove pins. Your project is blocked!
2) STEAM BLOCKING
This method uses steam to block items made with fibers that do not get ruined by heat. You don’t have to touch the item with the iron, so you can use this method to block very carefully your acrylic pieces.
Although many crafters use steam irons, I prefer to use a damp cloth and my iron with its steam setting off. I think the cloth provides a good barrier to prevent touching accidentally with the iron while hovering it over the knitted piece.
- Ironing board.
- Cotton cloth or pressing cloth if you have one.
- Spray bottle filled with water.
- Measuring tape.
- Rust-proof pins.
Steam blocking step-by-step
1) Lay your project on the ironing board, wrong side up, and stretch it to the desired shape, or measurements specified in the pattern, using the pins to secure it into place. This time try that the pins do not protrude from the project.
2) Cover the pinned item with a damp cloth, or a dry cloth and then spray it until soaked.
3) Hover the hot iron over the damp cloth, moving continuously back and forth. The water on the cloth will turn to steam and the heat and moisture will penetrate the yarn fibers.
4) Repeat the previous step as many times as necessary, spraying water on the cloth each time it gets dry (you’ll notice when you need to do it because when hovering your iron you stop listening the “fzzzzzz” of the steam building), until your knitting or crochet piece is damp and you see it relaxed into its proper shape.
5) Remove the cloth and let your project get cooled and dry completely.
6) Remove all pins. Your piece is blocked!
A FINAL WORD
The effect of bloking in a knitting or crochet piece will depend largely on the elasticity of the yarn fibers and the stitch pattern:
Happy knitting. And blocking!
AFFILIATE LINKS TO PRODUCTS IN AMAZON
As I explained before, I will leave you some links to good quality products, just in case you need to buy some of them and need a recommendation. If you read this far, let me tell you that there’s no more info below regarding blocking so, feel free to skip this!!
Leave me a comment if you have any question about blocking or just want to say “hello”.
I bought the one in the photos to put below my yoga mat, and usually use it for blocking too 😊 There are cheaper alternatives like this playmat for kids, expensive kits which come with T pins like the one from Knit IQ and lots between.
Foldable mini ironing board
I live in a tiny apartment, so the mini ironing board turned out to be amazing for me. Between uses I store it folded inside my wardrobe, behind my cloths. Just perfect.
I have used and recommend Eucalan unscented, Eucalan Lavender (I know it also comes in Eucalyptus and Grapefruit, but never tried them). They are biodegradable, non toxic and contain lanolin. Your washed pieces will get really really soft, so Eucalan is ideal to use for knitted baby cloths and blankets. To block items you don’t need to use a lot, just some drops.
I also had a great experience using a little pack from SOAK that I received from a friend. It worked great, but I don’t remember which scent it had..